1 Georgia State University Georgia State University Philosophy Theses Department of Philosophy The Impossibility of Evil Qua Evil: Kantian Limitations on Human Immorality Timothy Alan Crews-Anderson Follow this and additional works at: Recommended Citation Crews-Anderson, Timothy Alan, "The Impossibility of Evil Qua Evil: Kantian Limitations on Human Immorality." Thesis, Georgia State University, This Thesis is brought to you for free and open access by the Department of Philosophy at Georgia State University. It has been accepted for inclusion in Philosophy Theses by an authorized administrator of Georgia State University. For more information, please contact
2 THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF EVIL QUA EVIL: KANTIAN LIMITATIONS ON HUMAN IMMORALITY by TIMOTHY A. CREWS-ANDERSON Under the Direction of Melissa M. Merritt ABSTRACT Kant denies that evil qua evil can be an incentive to human beings. Is this a fact about what sorts of reasons human beings find interesting? Or, is it rooted entirely in Kant s notion of human freedom? I focus on key facets of Kant s system: human freedom, immorality and incentives. With an understanding of these concepts based in Christine Korsgaard s reading of Kant s moral theory, I argue that the impossibility of acting solely from evil qua evil is not rooted in human incentives and that if we were able to represent an unconditioned principle of immorality, we would have as powerful an incentive to act in accordance with it as we do to act in accordance with the categorical imperative. Finally, I argue that the impossibility of human beings having evil qua evil as an incentive is grounded in the limited nature of our positive conception of freedom. INDEX WORDS: Kant, ethics, morals, metaphysics, freedom, immorality, evil, psychology, incentive, moral feeling
3 THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF EVIL QUA EVIL: KANTIAN LIMITATIONS ON HUMAN IMMORALITY by TIMOTHY A. CREWS-ANDERSON A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences Georgia State University 2006
4 Copyright by Timothy A. Crews-Anderson 2006
5 THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF EVIL QUA EVIL: KANTIAN LIMITATIONS ON HUMAN IMMORALITY by TIMOTHY A. CREWS-ANDERSON Major Professor: Committee: Melissa Merritt Andrew Altman Andrew J. Cohen Electronic Version Approved Office of Graduate Studies College of Arts and Sciences Georgia State University August 2006
6 iv DEDICATION To my wife, Victoria Anne Crews-Anderson
7 v ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This thesis has been greatly improved by comments and suggestions from my thesis director, Dr. Melissa Merritt, and thesis committee members, Dr. Andrew Altman and Dr. Andrew J. Cohen. I would especially like to thank Dr. Merritt, whose patient instruction in the art of philosophical writing has been indispensable. Additionally, I want to thank Dr. Sandra Dwyer, who has contributed greatly to my philosophical knowledge and experience. Finally, I want to thank Sean Aas who has offered helpful criticism of my ideas at every turn.
8 vi TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.. CHAPTER v 1 INTRODUCTION 1 2 THE FREEDOM, IMMORALITY, AND INCENTIVES OF HUMAN BEINGS 3 Human Freedom... 3 Negative Concept to Positive Conception 3 Wille and Willkür.. 4 Human Immorality... 7 The Basics. 7 Fundamental Maxims 9 Human Incentives.. 13 The Predisposition to Good.. 13 The Moral Feeling. 15 Note on Inclination and Freedom The Moral Feeling and the Original Determination.. 22 Summary of Chapter EVIL QUA EVIL Diabolical and Malicious Beings.. 28 The Conceivability of a Human Psychological Incentive to Act from Evil Qua Evil. 29 The Impossibility of a Human Agent s Legislation of an Alternative to the Moral Law... 34
9 1 CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION Kant explicitly stakes out conceptual space for evil qua evil in Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason when he invokes the idea of a diabolical being or evil reason for which resistance to the [Moral] law [is] itself elevated to incentive. He denies, however, that this is applicable to the human being. 1 Why is this the case? According to Kant, it is only possible for human beings (or any imperfectly rational beings) to act either from respect for the Moral Law or from sensual inclinations. What is the reason for this? Is this a psychological matter and simply a fact about what sorts of reasons human beings find interesting? Or, is it rooted entirely in Kant s notion of human freedom? To answer these questions, attention will be focused on key facets of Kant s ethical system: the precise nature of human freedom, how it is that human beings act immorally, human incentives, and finally the idea of diabolical and malicious beings. With a plausible understanding of these concepts based in Christine Korsgaard s reading of Kant s moral theory, I will argue that the impossibility of our acting solely from resistance to the Moral Law is not rooted in the psychology of human incentives and that if we were able to represent an unconditioned principle of immorality, we would have as powerful an incentive to act in accordance with it as we do to act in accordance with the categorical imperative. Finally, I will argue that the impossibility of human beings 1 Kant, Immanuel. Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason And Other Writings. Translated by Allen Wood and George di Giovanni. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Hereafter referenced internally with the abbreviation Rel.
10 2 having evil qua evil as an incentive is grounded in the limited nature of our positive conception of freedom.
11 3 CHAPTER 2: THE FREEDOM, IMMORALITY, AND INCENTIVES OF HUMAN BEINGS Section 1: Human Freedom Negative Concept to Positive Conception: In the third section of Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant defines the will as a kind of causality belonging to living things insofar as they are rational. He describes freedom as a property of this causality that makes it effective independent of any determination by alien causes. This is contrasted with natural necessity, which is the property of the causality of all nonrational beings by which they are determined to activity through the influence of alien causes. This negative explanation of freedom offers little insight, but, there does arise from it a positive concept, which as such is richer and more fruitful. 2 Kant proceeds analytically from the negative concept of freedom to a positive concept. The concept of freedom includes that of causality, and the concept of causality carries the concept of laws according to which something that we call cause must entail something else namely, the effect (Gr. 446). Thus, on Kant s view, the negative concept of freedom implicitly contains a concept of lawfulness. From this we can infer that freedom cannot be lawless, and that a free will, despite having the capacity to determine its actions without influence from the causal order of nature, must act in accordance with an unchanging rule (Gr. 446). Continuing, Kant argues that since natural necessity is a heteronomy of efficient causes, freedom of the will must be autonomy, i. e., the property that the will has of being a law to itself (Gr. 447). 2 Kant, Immanuel. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by James W. Ellington. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Hereafter referenced internally with the abbreviation Gr.
12 4 From a negative concept of freedom, then, we move to a positive conception that Lewis White Beck describes as the effectiveness of the legislation of pure practical reason [Wille] and the ability to undertake actions in accordance with and because of (out of respect for) this law. 3 Thus, we have established two important features of an agent that possesses a free will. First, such an agent must be able to determine actions independently from sensory (alien) influences, and second, she must be able to legislate for herself a law according to which she has an incentive to act. Wille and Willkür: With these characteristics in hand, we may easily proceed to the constitutive elements that an agent must possess if her will is to be free. Kant describes two separate elements of the faculty of will, Wille and Willkür, which I will also refer to as capacities. 4 Henry Allison offers a helpful interpretation. The term Wille has two senses, broad and narrow. In its narrow sense, Wille signifies the legislative function or capacity of a unified faculty of volition, while Willkür is the executive capacity of this faculty the power to choose. Wille in its broad sense indicates the faculty taken as a whole and includes both Wille in its narrow sense and Willkür. 5 In a passage from Metaphysics of Morals, Kant states: A principle that makes certain actions duties is a practical law. A rule that the agent himself makes his principle on subjective grounds is called his maxim [ which is] a subjective principle of action, a principle which the subject himself makes his rule. A principle of duty, on the other hand, is a principle that reason prescribes to him absolutely and so objectively [. ] Laws proceed from the will, maxims from choice. In man the latter is a capacity for free choice; the will, which is directed to nothing beyond the law itself, cannot be called either free or unfree, since it is not directed to 3 Beck, Lewis White. Five Concepts of Freedom in Kant. In Philosophical Analysis and Reconstruction: Festschrift for Stephen Körner, edited by T.J. Srzednicki. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987, p For my purposes, I will use the term will to mean the unified faculty and the German terms to indicate its constitutive elements. 5 Allison, Henry. Kant s Theory of Freedom. New York: Cambridge University Press, p Hereafter referenced with the abbreviation Allison.
13 5 actions but immediately to giving laws for the maxims of actions (and is, therefore, practical reason itself). Hence the will directs with absolute necessity and is itself subject to no necessitation. Only choice can therefore be called free. 6 In addition to showing the distinction between Wille and Willkür, the passage also nicely expresses the difference between a practical law and a maxim. The maxim as a subjective principle which the subject himself makes his rule [ and which] proceeds from Willkür, is a matter of choice while the practical law, which is prescribe[d] to an agent absolutely and so objectively [ ] proceeds from the Wille, is not. Kant identifies Wille with practical reason itself. In Kant s system to say that reason is practical is to say that it is a faculty, which is to have influence on the will (Gr. 396). In contrast to Hume, who denies that reason can directly influence the will, it is the faculty by virtue of which an agent may, through an exercise of rational thought, determine her will. Practical reason itself has two fundamental employments with which an agent may make such determinations. When an agent becomes aware of a desired object or end, she may employ this faculty together with her a posteriori theoretical knowledge of how the phenomenal world is ordered in order to fulfill that desire. This is practical reason in its empirical employment, and by virtue of this application an agent is presented with hypothetical imperatives or practical precepts. 7 These hypothetical imperatives determine the conditions of the causality of a rational being as an efficient cause merely in regard to the [desired] effect (CpR 20). Their validity is conditioned by the desires of the agent, the agent s theoretical knowledge, and the sufficiency of the agent s efficient causal powers in the phenomenal 6 Kant, Immanuel. Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Hereafter referenced internally with the abbreviation MM. 7 Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Practical Reason. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Hereafter referenced internally with the abbreviation CpR.
14 6 world (CpR 20). Practical reason in its pure employment is an exercise of practical reason in which the agent determines her will by the mere form of the practical rule without presupposition of any feeling, and hence without presentations of the agreeable or disagreeable as the matter of the power of desire, the matter which is always an empirical condition of principles (CpR 24). Pure practical reason is a strictly a priori employment of practical reason by which an agent is presented with practical laws or imperatives that are unconditioned and categorical. A question arises here. Does Kant mean that Wille is practical reason in both its pure and its empirical employment? Since Kant speaks about a practical law as being a principle that makes certain actions duties and mentions that Wille is directed to nothing beyond the law itself, the above passage from Metaphysics of Morals seems to suggest that the Wille is only pure practical reason. Allison, however, reads Wille to mean both pure and empirical practical reason. He argues that an agent through the exercise of Wille is presented with laws as either practical precepts or categorical imperatives. 8 Regardless of how we resolve this question, it is clear that an agent has two possible employments of practical reason from which she can generate maxims. Whether we ascribe the term Wille to both or only to the pure employment is not crucial for my argument. For simplicity, I will use the term Wille to mean only pure practical reason. Though my reading diverts slightly from Allison s with regards to whether Wille should be thought to include practical reason in its empirical employment, his interpretation remains helpful. He suggests a plausible description of the roles these two capacities play in an agent s determination of her will. It is through an exercise of her 8 Allison 130
15 7 Wille that the moral law is presented to an agent as a categorical imperative. The agent then has two possible grounds for the generation of maxims: a hypothetical imperative from empirical practical reason and the categorical imperative from Wille. It is by merit of her Willkür that the agent then generates subjective rules or maxims from these imperatives and then freely chooses the maxim according to which she will act. Though Wille allows the agent to legislate the moral law, this capacity does not suffice to allow her to choose whether to act in accordance with it. It is her Willkür, rather, that provides her with the ability to generate subjective rules and to choose which of these rules she will follow. Willkür, however, cannot play a role in the legislation of the moral law nor can it act as ground for the presentation of practical precepts as hypothetical imperatives. Through Willkür, the agent can only choose from those imperatives presented by virtue of Wille or empirical practical reason. It is only the agent taken as a whole, then, that can be considered to legislate the moral law for herself, to be autonomous, and to have the power to choose freely. 9 Section 2: Human Immorality The Basics: In general, Kant considers an immoral action to be any action that is not in accordance with duty, that is done for any reason other than from respect for duty, or both. 10 This entails that it is possible for an agent to commit an action that is in accordance with duty but still not be moral. This immediately presents a problem, which Kant describes in the Second Section of the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Since we cannot directly observe an agent s thoughts, we can never know the true 9 Allison By action or act I mean roughly a deliberate, intentional, and morally significant deed performed by an agent.
16 8 reasons for her actions. Therefore, we can never in principle know from empirical observation whether another agent is acting morally. This is not, however, merely a problem of a lack of epistemic access to other minds. An agent cannot even say with certainty that she herself is acting morally because there is always a possibility that a reason, hidden even from the agent herself, other than respect for duty is acting as an incentive for an otherwise dutiful action (Gr ). This lack of certainty, however, does not necessarily arise in saying that an agent is immoral (Rel. 20). An explanation of why this is so will provide a good framework for a discussion of Kant s account of human immorality and radical evil. Kant holds that we can indeed know with certainty that an agent is immoral. To explain this somewhat startling claim, we need first to give a brief account of Kant s theory of moral reasoning and free choice. As mentioned above, Willkür is a power that an agent exhibits when she freely chooses maxims that she has generated from imperatives presented to her through either empirical practical reason or Wille. Important here is that for anything to be an option for choice it must first be incorporated into a maxim through Willkür. From this, we can infer from any particular action that an agent commits, that she has generated and selected a maxim. The ground or basis of the selected maxim that dictates a particular action determines whether that action is moral or immoral. Thus, it can be said that the morality of an action is determined by the nature of the maxim that determined it. As Kant indicates in the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, An action done from duty has its moral worth, not in the purpose that is attained by it, but in the maxim according to which the action is determined (Gr. 399). If the maxim of a particular action has as its ground a categorical imperative, then the maxim is
17 9 moral as is the action that it determines. In order to evaluate the moral status of a particular action (and consequently the agent herself), we must be able to infer the ground of the maxim according to which the agent is acting. Since there are two possible grounds for any maxim that determines an action that accords with duty, and since it is impossible to infer with any certainty which of these two is the actual ground, it is impossible to know whether an agent has acted solely from duty. If we are to make good on Kant s claim that it is possible to know with certainty that an agent is immoral, we must show how it is possible to infer the ground of a maxim that determines an act that is not in accordance with duty. Fundamental Maxims: On Kant s view, there are only two possible grounds from which an agent by exercise of her Willkür may draw imperatives for maxim creation, empirical practical reason and Wille. Korsgaard offers an interpretation of this that nicely illustrates this point. On her reading, given a particular action by an agent, we can ask the agent for the reason that she committed the given act. Suppose that an agent has told a lie. When we ask her why she has lied, she may answer that she did it to conceal the fact that she made a mistake. We may then ask her why she tried to conceal a mistake. Her answer to this question might be something to the effect that she wanted to maintain the appearance of competence or something of the sort. The point here is that any answer she gives would admit of further questioning regarding her reasons, and the possibility of an infinite regress arises. In order to block this regress, a fundamental reason for which there is a strong psychological incentive needs to be identified. In this case, this questioning could continue until she eventually answered that she was acting to protect what she thought was her self-interest. Self-interest, Korsgaard suggests, suffices
18 10 to block the regress. In Kantian terms, this appeal to self-interest is the generation and selection of a maxim that expresses what Kant calls a subjective ground or supreme principle based in self-interest as determined by practical reason in its empirical employment. 11 Now suppose instead that our agent has told the truth and that in telling the truth, she has angered friends and family and significantly harmed her self-interest. We might again begin the process of questions that will eventually identify the fundamental reason for her act. In this case, her answer would reduce to something like, It was the right thing to do, which on Korsgaard s view also suffices to block the regress. This appeal to the right thing to do is the generation and selection of a maxim that has as its source pure practical reason. It is a maxim that expresses the supreme principle based in morality as determined by practical reason in its pure employment. The choice that an agent makes between these two fundamental principles reflects the basic moral disposition of the agent. 12 Now, this basic disposition, if the agent is to be held responsible for it, must be a matter of choice, and if it is to be a matter of choice, she must incorporate it into a maxim through Willkür. This disposition, then, in addition to being the general basis for maxim generation and selection, is also itself a maxim. Keeping with Korsgaard s helpful reading, since there are only two possible grounds from which disposition-defining fundamental maxims may be generated, the difference between a moral basic disposition and an immoral one comes down to how the agent chooses to prioritize these two fundamental maxims, the prescriptions of which often (but not always) conflict. If the agent chooses to place those maxims that she 11 Korsgaard, Christine M. Morality as Freedom. In Creating the Kingdom of Ends. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p Hereafter referenced with the abbreviation Korsgaard. 12 Korsgaard
19 11 generates from hypothetical imperatives in a secondary position to those which are grounded in the moral imperative from Wille, then her basic disposition is moral. If however, she places the maxims grounded in the moral imperative in a secondary position to those grounded in empirical practical reason, then the character is immoral. To make this a bit clearer, we can express the fundamental moral maxim as follows: I will act in accordance with morality, and I will act in my own self-interest so long as it does not interfere with my acting in accordance with morality. The fundamental immoral maxim simply reverses the priority: I will act in my self-interest, and I will act morally so long as it does not interfere with my acting in my self-interest. 13 The fact that this foundational maxim affects all other maxims selected through an agent s Willkür (indeed it makes all maxims generated by an agent immoral) is why Kant refers to human immorality as radical evil. To fulfill Kant s claim that it is possible to identify through inference the presence of the immoral maxim, we need only consider the implications that these two fundamental maxims have for the acts that would (or could) actually be committed by an agent. Let us suppose that an agent is genuinely moral; she has a moral character by virtue of the fact that the subjective ground of her Willkür is indeed the fundamental moral maxim. We can, through exhaustive observation of her entire life, establish that she never commits an act that is contrary to duty. But can we from this infer the presence of the moral maxim? Indeed we cannot, for it is entirely possible that she has decided that it is in her self-interest to act as if she has a genuinely moral character. Were this to be the case, the maxim under which she appears to be acting is not at all the maxim under 13 Korsgaard 165
20 12 which she is really acting. It is impossible in principle to eliminate this possibility through empirical observation, which is, unfortunately, the only method available to us. Let us suppose, however, that we observe an agent commit even one single act that is contrary to duty. In this case, we can immediately infer that the agent has selected as her supreme principle or subjective ground the fundamental immoral maxim. The reason for this is simple. If it were the case that she were operating under the fundamental moral maxim, it would be impossible for her to commit an act 14 contrary to duty. The fact that she has committed even one such immoral act reveals her selection of the fundamental immoral maxim. Of interest is the fact that this inference is a priori. While the observation of the immoral act is empirical, the inference from the fact of an immoral act s having been committed to the presence of the fundamental immoral maxim proceeds independently from experience (Rel. 20). This inference is made valid by the fact that, according to Kant s theory, the presence of the fundamental immoral maxim is the only possible condition under which a human being can commit an action that is contrary to duty. The next apparent question is why a human being would take an interest in being immoral; that is, why would a human being find an incentive to adopt the fundamental 14 Clearly this does not take into account the possibility of accidents or mistakes in reasoning. Accidents, of course, do not count as acts as defined above. However, with regards to mistakes in reasoning or errors that an agent might make about what her duty actually is, there is some cause for concern. In Metaphysics of Morals Kant appears to concede that it is possible for an imperfectly rational being to make this kind of mistake (MM 401). This seems to clearly raise an epistemic problem regarding whether a particular action that is not in accordance with duty is committed because of the presence of an immoral maxim (in which case the agent has a correct concept of duty and chooses not to give it priority in her determination) or because of a mistake in reasoning with regards to what her duty is. This would seem to be a possible problem for Kant s ethical theory but not necessarily for my interpretation. If by hypothesis, we assume that we have a genuine instance of an agent s committing an action contrary to duty while possessing a correct concept of that duty, then we can infer a priori the presence of the fundamental immoral maxim. By contrast, if we assume that we have a genuine instance of an agent s committing an action that accords with duty while possessing a correct concept of duty, we still cannot infer the presence of the fundamental moral maxim.
21 13 immoral principle? The answer to this is as simple as it is obvious: because it is in a person s self-interest to do so. The really interesting question, then, is why would a person take an interest in acting against their self-interest, or more precisely, how is it that human beings have an incentive to select a fundamental maxim that has the potential to determine actions that are not in that person s self-interest? What could compel a person to consider the fundamental moral maxim to be a choice? To offer an answer to this question will require a brief discussion of incentive in Kant s system. Section 3: Human Incentives The Predisposition to Good: In his account of human evil, Kant describes what he terms the original predisposition to good in human nature (Rel. 26). This predisposition may be further divided into three different elements of the determination of the human being (Rel. 26). These elements are: 1. The predisposition to the animality of the human being, as a living being; 2. To the humanity in him; as a living and at the same time rational being; 3. To his personality, as a rational and at the same time responsible being. (Rel. 26) What does it mean for a human being to bear these predispositions? To say that we are predisposed to animality, for Kant, means that, as a matter of psychological fact that is due to our being a living thing, we are compelled by such things as self-preservation, species propagation, and community. Kant holds these drives or incentives to be more or less instinctual, describing them as physical or merely mechanical and as not having reason at its root at all (Rel. 26, 28). If we consider this physical self-interest as also involving comparison (for which reason is required), we evoke the predisposition to
22 14 humanity. From the notion of the instinctual self-interest of our animality originates the inclination to gain worth in the opinion of others (Rel. 27). I understand this to mean that from the physical self-love associated with the predisposition to animality along with the rational capacities of a human being, there arises a more complex second-order notion of self-interest. This notion stems from a human agent s awareness of the success of other human agents in achieving the ends associated with their own physical selfinterests. The agent s predisposition to humanity psychologically compels her to evaluate her successes in terms that are relative to the successes of others and to the esteem that she receives from others. As Kant says, only in comparison with others does one judge oneself happy or unhappy (Rel. 27). If, however, we reflect on ourselves as not only rational but also as morally responsible, we bring to mind the predisposition to personality. Kant defines this predisposition as the susceptibility to respect for the moral law as of itself a sufficient incentive to the [Willkür]. Kant identifies this susceptibility with the moral feeling (Rel. 27). A plausible way to make sense of the elements of the human predisposition to good is to say, first, that the predispositions to animality and humanity are the material of practical reason in its empirical employment. They are incentives for a use of reason that is more or less compatible with the Humean notion in that they provide the ends for endsmeans calculations: I want to live, so I will avoid joining the military. Or, I want to score the highest grade on the exam, so I will cheat. These two elements, then, do not necessarily motivate us to commit any particular act; rather, they predispose us to desire certain ends or goals. Moreover, if we choose to allow our desires for these ends to determine our will at the expense of our acting morally, then these predispositions
23 15 constitute the psychological basis for our taking an interest in the fundamental immoral principle. Empirical practical reason generates hypothetical imperatives that prescribe the measures we should take in order to achieve the ends that arise from our predisposition. The particulars of these means depend on contingent facts about the environment. If it is cold outside, my empirical practical reason may prescribe that I wear a coat to ensure my physical comfort. If, however, it is a particularly hot day, consideration of the same end would cause my empirical practical reason to prescribe that I wear cool and loose-fitting clothing. That the ends to which we are predisposed by our animality and rationality have influence on us is somewhat obvious. What is somewhat problematic for Kant s theory is why, in the face of such compelling incentives as pleasure and self-interest, an agent would ever opt for a maxim that is generated without consideration of these incentives at all. Put another way, in what sense can the law legislated through Wille be seen as an interesting option for Willkür? This question goes to the heart of Kant s account of how pure reason can be in itself practical. The Moral Feeling: The third element of the predisposition to good is entirely different from the other two. Kant states that the idea of the moral law alone, together with respect that is inseparable from it is [ ] personality itself (Rel. 28). The predisposition to personality is then a predisposition to respect for the Moral Law. For an agent to have respect for the Moral Law is for her to be in a state of having realized that the Moral Law applies to her or, more precisely, to have consciousness of the subordination of [her] will to a law without the mediation of other influences upon [her] sense (Gr. 401n). So to say that an agent has respect for something entails that the agent realizes that the object of respect carries determining force on Willkür regardless of the
24 16 effects of the acts that the object might dictate. Thus, the predisposition to personality or moral feeling is not simply respect for the Moral Law; rather, the moral feeling is a sort of psychological property that a human agent has that allows respect for the Moral Law to determine the will. In Metaphysics of Morals, Kant develops the notion of moral feeling. He characterizes it as one of several 15 moral endowments such that anyone lacking them could have no duty to acquire them (MM 399). The reason that there is no such duty is because they lie at the basis of morality, as subjective conditions of receptiveness to the concept of duty, not as objective conditions of morality. Indeed this receptiveness is a necessary psychological feature of a human agent if she is to be a moral agent at all. Kant asserts, No man is entirely without moral feeling, for were he completely lacking in susceptibility to it he would be morally dead (MM 400). If as a matter of psychological incentive, human beings were not susceptible to the concept of duty as being sufficient for determining the will, the whole idea of human moral responsibility would be undermined. Kant further describes the moral feeling as a susceptibility to feel pleasure or displeasure merely from being aware that our actions are consistent with or contrary to the law of duty (MM 399). He states, somewhat mysteriously, Every determination of [Willkür] proceeds from the representation of a possible action to the deed through the feeling of pleasure or displeasure, taking an interest in the action or its effect (MM 399). This language seems on its surface to be somewhat problematic. Talk of feelings and such should raise the hackles of a proponent of an essentially rational ethical theory like that of Kant. He is, however, careful to distinguish between feeling that is sensibly 15 These endowments are moral feeling, conscience, love of one s neighbor, and respect for oneself (selfesteem) (MM 399).
25 17 dependent and feeling that is moral (MM 399). The moral feeling is unique in that it is not sensual. Furthermore, while sensibly dependent feeling precedes the representation of law, the pleasure associated with moral feeling can only follow upon [the representation of the law] (MM 399). A reasonable interpretation of this is to say that when a human agent carries out a determination of Willkür according to the maxim derived from the fundamental immoral principle, she represents the possible action with a focus on its expected effect or end. Since her concern for this end is something to which she is predisposed by virtue of her rational animality, this representation is accompanied by a sensibly dependent feeling. 16 This feeling arises without the agent s having yet considered the Moral Law; thus, it precedes representation of the law (MM 399). Now, we must keep in mind that the determination is grounded in the fundamental immoral principle; therefore, it is already the case that the agent by exercise of her Willkür has freely chosen the maxim that a sensibly dependent feeling associated with the effect of an act is a sufficient condition for a determination of her will. After this feeling has arisen, a representation of the Moral Law follows. This representation of the Moral Law comes about by virtue of the agent s conscience 17, which Kant describes as practical reason holding man s duty before him for his acquittal or condemnation in every case that comes under a law (MM 400). He considers conscience to be something that as a matter of psychological fact every human agent has originally (MM 400). Following this consciousness of the Moral Law, a 16 I understand those feelings describable as sensibly dependent to include not only actual sensual feelings but also expectations of actual sensual feelings. It is consistent to say that the feeling that arises when we expectantly represent ourselves as experiencing an actual sensual feeling is itself sensibly dependent. 17 On my reading, while conscience plays a role in an agent s judging whether a particular maxim is in accordance with the Moral Law, it is not itself a factor in the psychology of incentive because it does not have influence on why an agent decides in general to make the Moral Law sufficient for determining her will. I revisit the Kantian conscience below (page 30).
26 18 moral feeling of displeasure follows regardless of whether the act is in accordance with or contrary to duty. This is because the agent, insofar as she is aware that the act is not done from respect duty, realizes that she has chosen to act immorally. Based on the agent s fundamental maxim, however, this moral displeasure (guilt) is insufficient to counter the conditioning of morality by self-interest. If on the other hand, a human agent carries out a determination of Willkür in accordance with the fundamental moral maxim, she represents the possible action with a focus only on the action and not at all on its effect. Since she is considering the action completely independently of its effects, no sensibly dependent feeling arises. Having no regard for the effects of the action, the only remaining basis for decision is whether the action is in accordance with duty. By virtue of her conscience, the agent is then presented with a representation of the Moral Law. If the action under consideration is in accordance with the law, a moral feeling of pleasure arises, and Willkür completes the determination with the agent s undertaking of the action. If, however, the action under consideration is contrary to the law, a moral displeasure is experienced, and the agent opts not to carry out the action. A crucial point needs to be made here. What I am describing is not an account of why an agent decides to carry out a moral act and refuse an immoral act. An agent acting from respect for the Moral Law decides one way or another solely because a particular act is in accordance with or contrary to her duty. The account that I am presenting of a feeling associated with acting morally is meant only to offer an essentially psychological explanation of how a human agent takes an interest in acting morally. Put differently, this is a description of why a human being decides to
27 19 make a moral imperative a sufficient reason for a determination of her will; it is not an account of why a human being chooses to act from respect for that imperative. A potentially significant problem arises from this reading. My account shows how the moral feeling arises only in those determinations of the Willkür that are derivative of the fundamental maxim, which on my reading is presupposed. I am appealing to the basic disposition of the agent to account for how Willkür can have the Moral Law as an incentive. This would seem to be a problem since the nature of a person s basic disposition is itself a matter of choice, and therefore a determination of Willkür. Kant, indeed, states Every determination of [Willkür] proceeds from the representation of a possible action to the deed through the feeling of pleasure or displeasure, taking an interest in the action or its effect (MM 399, my added emphasis). How are we to make sense of this sentence in terms of the original 18 determination of Willkür, by which I mean the choosing of the fundamental maxim? Korsgaard offers a compelling account of this original determination that should be of help here. Korsgaard has us consider a purely rational will from a position of spontaneity, which is meant as a conception of a will considered independently of space, time, and natural (or phenomenal) causality. While in this position the free will is called upon to choose its most fundamental principle. 19 This choice amounts to a selection by the will of a principle that will determine what sorts of things it will count as reasons. Assuming that the will must have fundamental reasons of some sort to block the 18 By original, I do not mean anything like first in time because this determination is made by virtue of the fact that a free will is in some sense a member of the intelligible world, and time is a feature of the phenomenal world. This discussion will make use of temporal and spatial terminology, but this should not be taken as descriptions of empirical time and space; rather, they reflect merely a limitation of human language in discussing the subject. 19 Korsgaard 164
28 20 sort of regress mentioned above, on what basis would a free will in such a position decide? Enter Kant s notion of incentive, which Korsgaard characterizes as something that makes an action interesting to [the agent]. 20 Since the will has not yet decided what sorts of things it will consider as reasons, these incentives do not yet count as such. They do, Korsgaard suggests, limit the options from which this original determination may be made, and while the (human) will cannot choose not to feel compelled by these incentives, it can choose the order of precedence among the different kinds of incentives to which [it] is subject. These incentives, of course, are the elements of the predisposition to good. On what basis, then, would a free will in the position of spontaneity choose? This brings us back to the question at hand. Why would a human being take an interest in choosing a fundamental maxim that might very well entail the necessity of acts against her self-interest? A purely rational will must choose a principle upon which to proceed. It has two possible grounds for such a principle, either interest in the self as conceived empirically in terms of the laws of nature or Wille and its Moral Law. Korsgaard argues that a purely rational will in the position of spontaneity must choose a principle without phenomenal experience to provide empirical content. The Moral Law is a compelling option because it is a lawful principle without such content. Indeed, if a purely rational will chooses the Moral Law as the primary consideration in its original determination, then, on Korsgaard s view, it remains in the position of spontaneity. If a purely rational will opts for the fundamental immoral principle, it relinquishes its position of spontaneity and subjugates itself to sensory inclination. As Korsgaard puts it, A constraint on its choice is acquired, and for a purely rational will in the position of spontaneity, there is no 20 Korsgaard 165
29 21 incentive for this. The incentives that arise from the predispositions to animality and humanity do not gain their force until the purely rational will departs freely from the position of spontaneity. 21 Note on Inclination and Freedom: Special care should be taken here. Once a purely rational will has departed from the position of spontaneity, it is confronted with the full will-determining force of the phenomenal world. Human beings are predisposed to certain sorts of ends rooted in our rational animality, and considerations of achieving those ends in the world of experience are tremendously powerful to us. How can we say that these inclinations, rooted as they are in empirical practical reason, can then be a matter of free choice? If we assume that these ends are ours by virtue of instinct or psychology, how can we say that we are not causally determined to perform the means to these ends? How can such acts be morally imputable? Kant, of course, denies that we are causally determined by our sensory inclinations and holds that we are indeed responsible for choosing to act in accordance with them. The basis of this claim is that any determination of the will is an act of an agent by virtue of her Willkür. For a particular end to be selected, a particular act to be carried out, or for a particular incentive to influence a determination of the will, an agent through Willkür must incorporate that end, act, or incentive into a maxim which she must then choose freely. So while we may be predisposed by virtue of our rational animality to find certain ends compelling as incentives, we must choose to act on these incentives. We may feel a powerful impulse to act towards the ends of our own interest, pleasure, or benefit. Indeed, these impulses arise involuntarily from our physical selves as rational animals. Nonetheless, we must first make it our maxim to act from them if they are to 21 Korsgaard 166
30 22 play any role in determining our will. Even then, the role that they play is limited. At most, they are only the ends, consideration of the achievement of which generates the contingent content of empirical practical reason, which is only one possible source from which Willkür is presented imperatives. Consequently, even when we make it our maxim to achieve these ends, it is not the self-interest, pleasure or benefit nor even the desire for these ends that actually determines the will; rather, it is through our capacity of Willkür, our free power of choice, that this becomes possible. Inclination acts as a constraint on choice, but it does not act as a restraint. The Moral Feeling and the Original Determination: Putting this back into the context of the discussion of moral feeling, we can easily see how it is possible from the position of spontaneity for the original determination to be made in favor of the fundamental moral maxim. In the absence of the incentives of inclination, a purely rational will has no reason to choose other than in favor of the Moral Law. Clearly, however, the human will is not purely rational. By virtue of this fact, we do have a powerful psychological incentive to adopt the fundamental immoral maxim. So why then would a human will opt for the fundamental moral maxim? What can count as a basis for an imperfectly rational human will to take an interest in choosing to identify with the purely rational moral standpoint? Korsgaard suggests that this basis may be found in Kant s distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal world. By constraining our Willkür with determination by the phenomenal world, in a very real sense, we put our will at the disposal of the causally-determined physical world. Assuredly, we choose to do this, but this choice, in effect, is a choice to act is if we are not free. If however, we choose the fundamental moral maxim, we are opting to maintain our will in a position of
31 23 freedom, and thereby are we able to fully represent ourselves as members of the noumenal (intelligible) world. 22 Although Kant famously denies the possibility of theoretical knowledge of the noumenal world, he argues that we can form a conception of it as the ground of the phenomenal world and as determining its nature. Based on this conception, an agent s representation of herself as member of the noumenal world entails a conception of herself as mak[ing] a real difference to the way the phenomenal world is. 23 Certainly, we are not warranted in any claims about what precisely this difference might be, but by opting for the fundamental moral maxim, an agent can represent herself as contributing not only to the merely natural, ordering of the sensible world, which can be accounted for by other forces in the noumenal world, but also to the rational ordering. Adopting the immoral maxim, however, is to accept that although you are free, you could just as well not have been. Your freedom makes no difference. 24 It is plausible to suggest the particular sort of pleasure that Kant evokes in his discussion of moral feeling is rooted in the fact that acting from respect from the Moral Law uniquely allows an agent to represent herself as being a member of the noumenal world. In his discussion of the predisposition to personality in Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Kant writes that the Moral Law is the only law that makes us conscious of the independence of our power of choice from determination by all other incentives (of our freedom) and thereby also of the accountability of all our actions (Rel. 26n). This passage indicates that Kant indeed holds that acting from respect for the Moral Law is unique in that is makes us aware of the property that our will has to be 22 Korsgaard Korsgaard Korsgaard 169
32 24 determined independently of all other incentives, which I understand to mean sensory inclinations. This property of the will to act independently from desires associated with the phenomenal world is the ground for a human agent to represent herself as an efficacious member of the noumenal. But does the pleasure that accompanies the moral feeling arise because the agent is acting solely from respect for the Moral Law? Or does it arise because the agent is acting in a way that allows her to represent herself as a member of the noumenal world, and it just so happens that the only ground for such a representation is acting solely from respect for the Moral Law? Korsgaard s argument regarding the position of spontaneity certainly leads in this direction. Her reading suggests that the reason a purely rational will takes an interest in acting according to the Moral Law is not because it is the Moral Law but because it satisfies the condition of needing to find some principle (law) for determining itself without surrendering its freedom. Is the moral feeling perhaps better described as a freedom feeling, a unique sensibly independent feeling that it associated with morality only because acting solely from respect for the Moral Law is the only avenue by which human beings can represent themselves as free (and therefore members of the noumenal world)? Let us assume for the sake of argument that this reading is incorrect. Suppose that the root of the moral feeling is indeed morality and not freedom. This means simply that the human susceptibility to feel pleasure solely from respect for the moral law is grounded in the fact that respect for the moral law allows us to feel moral. On its surface, this seems to be circular. The human susceptibility to feel pleasure solely from respect for the moral law is grounded in the fact that respect for the moral law uniquely allows us to feel as if we are acting solely from the moral law.